For Carlton Ward Jr., looking at Florida's ranches is a way of looking at Florida's future. Cowboys and cattle ranchers may be engaged in a pursuit that looks like history, but it is also an indicator of how the state might look in 50 years, Ward says.
As he writes in the introduction to his new book, Florida Cowboys: Keepers of the Last Frontier, "A well-managed Florida ranch can provide the same ecological functions as a state or national park, without burdening taxpayers with the cost of management."
A photojournalist and conservationist, Ward is also an eighth-generation Floridian from one of its prominent ranching families — the Carltons first registered their cattle brand in Hillsborough County in 1852. Stories his father told about "wild adventures in the Florida heartland" are among his warmest childhood memories.
For several years, Ward Jr. worked for the Smithsonian Institution in Gabon, in west-central Africa. "Here I was exporting this conservation ethic to Africa. Florida was at the height of development. Every time I'd come back, it was changing, and changing fast."
He knew he had to return, and he looked for a project that "would do the most good." He settled on documenting what he knew so well: "Florida's ranchlands are an untold story." It's told in the beautiful images of Florida Cowboys.
Colette Bancroft, Times book editor